Queensboro Bridge

Queensboro Bridge approach, 9X12, oil on canvasboard.
Several years ago I got into painting under the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge with my friend Kristin. This is a great painting location, because it has architecture, traffic, public seating, and a Starbucks with a restroom close by.
Under the Queensboro Bridge, 12X16, oil on canvasboard. 
I enjoy painting in Manhattan, and have sold a few paintings from my easel there, but I don’t paint there enough to have a body of work large enough for a dedicated show.  
Queensboro Bridge approach, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
So it’s no surprise that these four paintings are going into my Black Friday un-sale this week. (In case you’ve missed it, this holiday un-sale is from 2-9 on Friday, November 29, 2014, at 410 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618. It includes plein air and studio work, framed and unframed, along with prints and notecards—everything 25-50% off.)

Queensboro Bridge, oil on canvasboard.
Painting in New York City is different from painting in Rochester. There’s much more foot traffic and it’s far noisier. I am very extroverted, and I feed off its energy, but some painters would be annoyed at the constant interruptions.
I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here.

Three paintings gone to good homes

Adirondack Path, 14X18, by Carol L. Douglas
This weekend as I sorted and labeled paintings for what is likely to be my first, last and only Black Friday Sale, I kept an eye open for a painting suitable for a friend and colleague from North Carolina. I’ve known her for more than 25 years. Although we haven’t lived in the same city for a few decades, through the miracle of social media I’ve watched her take up painting and develop into a skilled artist in her own right.
Hudson sunset, 12X16, by Carol L. Douglas
One painting kept speaking to me as being appropriate for her: a sunset over the Hudson. This very rarely happens to me; I usually stay out of the process of selection anyway. I sent her a photo, she likes it. I know she’ll love the finished work, and it will be wending its way south this afternoon.
My brother and his three kids just arrived for Thanksgiving. This complicates my sorting-and-labeling project, since it has to be confined to my studio.
Evening squall at 12 Corners, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Still, there was (barely) enough room for another couple to sort through the unframed works on my table and find two that they liked. The first—a picture of a snowsquall in downtown Brighton—was just on my blog last week. It is a reminder of all the times I’ve spent waiting for my kids in the loop at 12 Corners Middle School. The other was a reverie painted in the Adirondacks.
Today and tomorrow, I’ll concentrate on getting images of the work in this sale up in an online folder. Yes, I’m happy to ship them, but if you’re able to stop by on Friday afternoon, that would be even better. As I may have mentioned, there will be wine.

The holiday un-sale is from 2-9 on Friday, November 29, 2014, at 410 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618. It includes plein air and studio work, framed and unframed, along with prints and notecards—everything 25-50% off.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Holiday gift guide #3 (accessories for the artist)

If you’re crafty, you can make wet canvas carriers using two painting frames glued face-to-face and some big rubber bands. That was my intention but, after I scoured all our thrift stores unsuccessfully for the proper size frames, I gave up and ordered PanelPak wet canvas carriers. For the sake of my car’s interior, I wish I’d bought them 200,000 miles ago. I use the 8X10 and 12X16 the most, but that’s an individual thing.
Another pricey but invaluable accessory is a stainless steel brush tank with a leak-proof lid. Yes, artists can use glass jars with tightly screwed lids, but they make a mess in the field. Get a small one for a plein air painter. Cared for properly, these last a lifetime.
In our house, Santa doesn’t bring presents but he does fill stockings. He always remembers sketch books. I like Strathmore’s Visual Journals with smooth Bristol paper and #2 mechanical pencils, but you can scale that up or down as your budget requires. You might add micron pensif your list includes teenagers who like to draw comics.
I have a Winsor Newton watercolor sketch kit, but dedicated watercolorists love to create their own pan sets. Anyone would be thrilled to get this Schmincke empty palette set, but if your painter is young and hip, get him just the empty half-pans, some double-sided tape and a few tins of Altoids. Pair this with a watercolor field book, and he will entertain himself for the rest of the year.
Every painter should have a set of grey-scale markers for value studies. A navigational compass and a cheap (because it will get dirty) business card holder are both useful field tools.
Every year, a million knock-off French box easels appear nestled under aspiring artists’ Christmas trees. Do me a favor and don’t buy one; they’re heavy, cumbersome, and discouraging. For the watercolor artist, see my post hereabout choosing an easel. For oil painters, a pochade box and tripod is a better option, although they can be expensive. Good with your hands? Here’s a pochade box I built for under $50; it serves me well and it can be paired with a less-expensive tripod.
If your artist really needs a studio easel, I think the Testrite aluminum mast easel is good value for money. It is what I use for my students. If your artist likes to work really big, go with their hinged professional model. I’ve been using one for decades.
And, of course, art lessons are always good.

Don’t forget my holiday sale, or my 2015 Maine workshop. Details on that are coming tomorrow.

Holiday gift guide #2 (what you need is a painting)

About ten years ago, I realized I had purchased enough toys, appliances, and tchotchkes for a lifetime, and I gave up Christmas shopping. It’s not like anyone ever got sentimental over the PS3 game I bought, after all.
So when I decided to have a Black Friday sale of my paintings, I figured it’d better be an un-sale.
Evening squall at 12 Corners, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
It’ll be in my house. You can come over and buy nothing, if you want. Hang out on Clifford, talk to the family, drink wine. Or buy a painting. Or ten. It’s all good.
This holiday un-sale is from 2-9 on Friday, November 29, 2014, at 410 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618. It includes plein air and studio work, framed and unframed, along with prints and notecards—everything 25-50% off.
This is a great opportu­nity to acquire an original work of art for a fraction of its gallery price. And did I mention there would be wine?

Can’t wait to see you on Black Friday!
I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Holiday gift guide #1—brushes for oils, acrylics, and watercolor

That Holiday is coming up. I am often asked for gift ideas. Brushes are expensive, and most students limp by with rotten ones rather than spend the money on good brushes. A gift certificate to an art supply store would give the most flexibility, but some people don’t want that.

The brush department is where most painters stand and drool in an art store

Oil and acrylic plein air painters should limit themselves—in general—to long-handled hog bristle brushes. These carry paint most effectively. Shape is a personal preference, but a decent mixture of sizes and shapes gives the greatest flexibility.
Oils and Acrylics
In general, painters are better off with fewer good brushes than a lot of mediocre ones. Sizing is not standard across manufacturers, but a variety between #2 and #12 should suffice for most field work.
Here are the fundamentals:
Brights are stubby flat brushes, useful for short, aggressive strokes and heavy paint application.
Filberts are oval brushes. They carry more paint than a round but the pointed end allows for greater paint-carrying capacity. People who like to blend their edges often like filberts best.
Flats have been my go-to brush for many years. They can be used on edge for fine work, but used on the flat they carry lots of paint and create a bold style.
Rounds are good for details, lines, and fills. I generally carry a few smaller rounds in my kit, but many painters swear by them in all sizes. 
Here are specialty brushes, for the painter who already has a basic kit:
Riggers: These are short-handled, pointed, long round brushes made of sable, and their main mission in life is painting boat rigging and other fine lines.
Fans: While you could use these to daub happy trees, they are really intended for blending. I have a couple in my studio kit, but I don’t carry them in the field.
The basic shapes
Egbert or Double filberts are long, squishy brushes. I have three of these. They are easily damaged and shouldn’t be left to stand in a can of turpentine. They are especially good for figure work, and give a dancing, prancing line.
Spalters are big flat brushes with either long or short handles. I use them to underpaint my studio canvases and as dry blending brushes.
Watercolor painters have the choice between Taklon, squirrel and sable. The latter costs the earth but has the finest paint-carrying capacity.
The three basic shapes are:
Round: this is more pointed than an oil-color round and is suitable for most detail work. Sable takes a point better than synthetics, and this is a place where spending the money would be appropriate. A #10 for regular painters, and a #16 for big painters is a good place to start.
Flat wash: Most painters carry a few of these. I have a .5” and 1”, both of Taklon. These often have an angled end for scraping and burnishing.
Mop/oval wash:This is a big floppy brush useful for laying in large areas. It is usually made of squirrel hair, and is very absorbent.
Hake: Also a wash brush, but of Asian extraction. I find a mop more versatile, but it wouldn’t hurt to have one to play with.
Riggers: These are short-handled, pointed, long round brushes made of sable, and their main mission in life is painting boat rigging and other fine lines.
Script/Liner: A detail brush for outlining and long continuous strokes.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s 
classes or this workshop.

Merry Christmas!

My male friends can go back to alphabetizing their Beatles collection. My middle-aged women pals will recognize this as a bottle angel—what we were making while they were building forts and playing that ugly Danelectro guitar in the family room.

She was made in 1968 or thereabouts, which is why she is wearing a chic turquoise burlap gown with cotton batting for trim. She’s bedraggled and filthy and her dress is unraveling, but she has been on our Christmas tree ever since my mom decided I was finally old enough to take care of her (I was 35 or thereabouts). This year my mom gave me her own tree angel, a delicate porcelain doll with batiste skirts that glow in the tree lights. My own bedraggled angel moves over to join the psychedelic reindeer and the blonde German Santa in the niche.

My friend Kristin Zimmermann paints portraits of sentimental things that must move along—her Kitchen-Aid mixer, her Christmas ornaments, and her Singer Featherweight sewing machine, among other things. They are delightful paintings. I’m trying to paint a small still life every day before moving on to more important things—6X8, not to take more than an hour. I think I’m going to borrow her idea for a while.

Junior League of Rochester Holiday Market, Oct. 18-19, 2008

This weekend, I will participate in the new Junior League of Rochester Holiday Market at the Dome Fair & Expo Center, 2695 E. Henrietta Rd, Rochester. The show features fine arts and crafts, gourmet foods, and services.

Hours are Saturday from 10 to 6 and Sunday from 10 to 5. Tickets are $5, 12 and under free. They will be available at the door or with advance registration from the Junior League office at 585-385- 8590.

I will have original artwork and prints and notecards for sale. Some of my prints are available online from the publisher, here.

New York landscapes to please any art lover
Ten high quality note cards with envelopes, packed in a clear acrylic box. $9.95 (to order cards by mail, contact me here).

Coast Guard Station

Toys in the Snow
Catskill Farm

Campbell’s Field

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow (1567)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil on wood panel, dimensions not available
Oskar Reinhart Collection, Switzerland
This Nativity by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is the second picture I am considering with my pastor friend John Nicholson at The Shepherd’s Staff. John’s from Alabama, where today they expect a high of 78° F and sun. Here in Rochester we winter under a perpetually gray sky with much snow. The gloom and the oddly trudging figures swathed in black look natural to me but probably seem exotic to John.

My students have spent a lot of time in the past two months talking about composition. They would tell you that it is passing strange to have that Nativity on the edge of the canvas, partially obscured. Many critics have noted this and concluded that this is really a just a Flemish village scene with a Nativity tossed in. I disagree.

Pieter Bruegel’s birth was unrecorded, but it is thought to have been around 1525-30 in either Liège or Brabant. Just as there is ambiguity about his birthplace, there is no record of whether Bruegel died as a Protestant or Catholic. (He was shrewd—he asked his wife to burn his papers after his death.)

Bruegel’s youthful world was wholly Catholic. His training and early career were excellent and orthodox: apprenticeship to a leading Antwerp painter in the Italianate style (Pieter Coecke van Aelst), further studies with an artist-priest (Giulio Clovio) in Rome, a now-lost church altar in 1550-51. The anomaly was Coecke’s wife, Mayken Verhulst, an artist from Mechelin. This city was an early center for peasant genre painting, and she is sometimes credited with transmitting this idea to Bruegel. (She also trained his young sons after his early death in 1569; art history knows her mainly as the root of the Brueghel painting dynasty.)

Bruegel worked with three themes throughout his career: peasants, landscape and religion. In his early work, these converged and diverged in no particular pattern. As a member of a successful atelier family (he married the Coeckes’ daughter) he flourished; he had a high degree of skill as well. But his most brilliant paintings were at the end of his life. Was that simply because he had grown to maturity, or was he responding to the trials of his times?

One of the decrees of the Council of Trent was that religious painting must be suitably elevated; saints must be set apart from mere mortals in dress, demeanor and activity. The Church recognized that saints with dirty feet were a dangerous endorsement of the Protestant concept of a priesthood of all believers.

By then, Reformation was smoldering in the Netherlands; Anabaptists and Calvinists met secretly and illegally. Bruegel left no record of what he thought of this or anything else. But from a Catholic standpoint, his paintings became positively impertinent. Of these paintings, three deserve mention. Bruegel located his Tower of Babel (1563) in a Flemish city and dressed Nimrod as a European king. The Sermon of St. John the Baptist (1566) is militant—subversive, actually—because it clearly depicts a contemporary Calvinist or Anabaptist service. In it he identifies the heretic Protestant preachers with John the Baptist. The Adoration of the Magi of 1564 is a straight-up Nativity scene, but anything but saintly. Notice Mary’s droopy veil, Joseph’s distraction, and the brutish faces of the peasants to his right.

One could ask whether these reflected the views of his patrons or his own religious convictions. I would guess that the two were so intertwined that the question is meaningless. (One of Bruegel’s most important patrons was Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, a leading European statesman and Counterreformer, but if Caravaggio’s experience was an indicator, we shouldn’t read too much into that.)

How powerful art can be! In 1566, the Reformation ignited in the Low Countries. It did so over the issue of art, in the form of the Beeldenstorm (“picture storm”), in which church art was systematically destroyed throughout the Netherlands. Spain responded by sending the cruel Duke of Alba to Brussels (where Bruegel had settled) to extirpate the rebels. This reign of terror—in which thousands died and many more were dislocated—led directly to the Eighty Years’ War.

It was during the height of this terror that Bruegel painted The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow. It’s lovely, but it isn’t peaceful. The central stream of figures is very nearly on the march.

This weekend I uncrated a set of porcelain crèche figures. They are terribly clichéd and indistinguishable from millions of others worldwide. (I treasure them anyway.) Our museums are full of similar Nativities—some brilliant, many not. Some religious art slipped over the line to idolatry, and much was commissioned for base reasons of power and prestige. The Beeldenstorm set out to destroy the fruits of these bad intentions, but it destroyed indiscriminately. In his last years, Bruegel was feeling his way along the narrow space between the Beeldenstorm and the Duke of Alba. Today we see his Adoration as quaint; we don’t remember that it was radical.

The Protestant impulse forced a new way of painting. Artists couldn’t produce idols, so the pattern books of their faith—unchanged for a millennium—were closed to them. How, then, could they articulate their religious feelings? Bruegel actually painted three winter scenes of the Biblical Infancy Narratives. The others are The Slaughter of the Innocents (1565-66) and The Census at Bethlehem (1566).

Slaughter of the Innocents, detail (1565-66)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil on wood panel, dimensions not available

Bruegel was addressing a problem which bedevils our own age: how can the artist tell an ancient, unchanging story in a new language? He solved the problem by quoting a traditional icon in the context of a new reality. In these three paintings, the new context was the Protestant priesthood of all believers, represented by the peasantry. Today we call this “appropriation art” and imagine it’s a new idea.

The Nativity (particularly the Virgin and Child) is the most commonly painted subject in art. Even in our secular age, even among non-Christians, it is universal. Bruegel’s brilliance was in realizing that he didn’t need to spell out the scene inside the stable; everyone knew it. In fact, in not doing so, he allowed us to regain something mysterious and personal about that night.

I must mention Bruegel’s technical prowess. Since he invented the winter landscape, he can also be credited with chromatic modeling in snow, in the form of violet shadows and the warm highlights. Note how the roof in the building on the top left is shaped by these shifts in color rather than with darker grey shadows. (This was an artistic choice; the snow on a dark winter day is generally flat.) The dark mass of people sweeps in an arc to the Nativity, pulling it back up into importance. Bruegel emphasized this sweep by making it the busiest part of his painting, and by making the figures darker and in greater contrast than the surround. This arc of humanity plays off against the perfectly composed diagonal lines of the surround.

Bruegel was an acute observer of reality. I respond to his winter scenes because they are true to my own experience, even if the details have changed beyond all imagining. I respond to his religious vision because I myself am feeling my way along the narrow space between two religious traditions.

A blessed Advent to you all.